Forth Road Bridge to re-open, but for how long?

Today a large part of Scotland will  be giving a collective sigh of relief as the Forth Road Bridge re-opens to traffic. But for how much longer? When I crossed last September I never imagined it might be for the last time. All of which made me think about how the bridges dominated our lives growing up in Fife and prompted this post on Authors Electric last week. As a result I made contact with Dennis Penny of the Queensferry Passage site whose father was master of one of the old ferry boats which were decommissioned when the road bridge opened and who is also a photographer (more great pictures here).  It seems only right to give the piece another airing using some of his great images, for which I’m extremely grateful. 

forth ferry

Dunfermline, the town where I grew up, has always been defined by the stretch of water separating it from Edinburgh the ‘new’ capital. (Yes, Dunfermline came first, although not a lot of people know that!)  Our history lessons started with Queen Margaret who came all the way from Norway and alighted at the Queen’s Ferry and then there were all the adventure yarns from Stevenson onwards where the water had to be crossed one way or another.


A grand day out

But the Firth of Forth (how that name puzzled me before I could spell it!) was not just geography and history but also our holidays, on beaches with views of Arthur’s Seat, or on picnics to a tiny beach near Cramond made memorable by a trip on the ferry boats where burly sea-men in navy jumpers tossed ropes and took our tickets as we stepped onto the oily smelling deck.

By the time I was at school they were already building the Road Bridge and Sunday walks (simple pleasures back then!) took us along the approach roads blasted through the rock face to see the towers and arches taking shape, the weaving of the steel cables that would carry the weight of the road.

Its opening was a huge celebration of which everyone has a story to tell: a friend’s brother was in a group of schoolchildren chosen to meet the Queen; the brother–in-law of a more recent acquaintance, I’ve just discovered, was first to cross the new bridge in a police car ahead of Her Majesty.

The corollary – the closing of the the Queensferry Passage was the only shock.  No more ferries would run even as pleasure boats, but in the end we barely noticed.  For a few months it was a novelty to walk across the new bridge and back again, but this was the age of the car. Soon we whizzed across regularly, with much sighing from the grown-ups at the cost of the toll.

Two BridgesBecause of the new bridge everything changed, including the view from either side of the Forth. New photos were taken, postcards and calendars printed with the views realigned. Dunfermline was redefined as ‘Just over the Bridge’ and the sight of the two bridges spanning the waves has for me been an indelible image of home, whether arriving by rail, by road or even from the air.

But while the Forth Road Bridge became familiarised as The Road Bridge, then just The Bridge, there was only ever one Forth Bridge, the original red giant. When my Grandpa reached for the double six in his hand of dominoes and slid it into the middle of the sheet of newspaper (protecting the table from scratches!) that’s what he called it, The Forth Bridge, the biggest and the best, the daddy of them all, built– unlike its ill-fated predecessor the Tay Bridge – to last forever.

Forth Rail BridgeIt seems ironic now that what made the new bridge so fascinating was the contrast in styles with its Victorian cousin, the delicacy of its suspension cables and the pale tracery of its girders compared to the massivity of its partner. Documentaries were run on the technology that allowed the bridge to sway in the wind and the road to bend under pressure. The Forth Bridge, with its huge pillars and tangle of girders was ‘over-engineered’, they said.

So we can only think the Victorians are laughing in their graves as our new light-weight pretender is closed – indefinitely – after a mere fifty years of service. A replacement is on its way but in the meantime there’s road chaos over several  counties and – no coincidence –  a lot more traffic to the excellent Queensferry Passage website as people like me ride the wave of nostalgia.

bridge closed

A new view  of the empty bridge

I don’t know what lessons are to be learned from this.
Did the engineers of the fifties get it wrong, or does everything in our world now come with a shelf life?

For me it  brings a shiver of mortality to think in my lifetime this dizzying structure came to fruition then lost its usefulness.

It would be a neat piece of history if the Queensferry passage were to be reinstated even temporarily to remind us we are at the mercy of nature and to slow us down in our daily comings and goings, but on the day when we’re launching a man into space, I think it’s just a case of hats off to the Victorians.

They knew about building something that would last.

Photo credits (from Flickr)
*Estuary view by Joe 
Ferry and ticket images from Queensferry Passage with thanks

H is for Hawkesbury – a new anthology


Rather a neat title!

Not long to go until my stop on the Scottish blog hop this Sunday, but after that I’m out and about closer to home, first of all to the not-so-sleepy Cotswold Village of Hawkesbury Upton now well and truly on the literary map since the inaugural literature festival last spring.To celebrate that event and give a boost go the next one, the founder Debbie  Young (or T.I.D.Y, the Indefatigable Debbie Young, as I think of her!) has put together a taster of the writers who attended last year into the wonderfully named H is for Hawlesbury Anthology which we’ll be showing off and selling in a mini pop-up festival as part of the Hawkesbury Village Show. next Saturday, August 29th.

The book will also be available on Amazon (nice work, Debbie!) and I can do no better than quote from the description:

The text includes both fiction and non-fiction, ranging from historical and contemporary fiction to travelogues and self-help, from sinister thrillers to light-hearted humour. As in the festival itself, there is something to interest all kinds of readers and to encourage festival guests to try books beyond their usual comfort zone.

I seem to remember the cost is a mere £4. So if you can’t make the show you can still read the book, but if you’re anywhere within striking distance I would say that Hawkesbury is the place to be.


All roads lead to Hawkesbury – Saturday August 29th

I also have it on good authority that the writing set will be easy to find – our pitch is next to the Pimms tent. Another very good reason to roll up and say hello.

What’s next on the itinerary? Check out the Events widget or take a look over here.


A fictional trip around Scotland, starting with A Kettle of Fish

Reading and holidays go together like … well you can fill in your own favourite pairing, but how often does a book make a holiday or a holiday location add something to a book? And before settng off, how often do we look for something set in the country or area we’re visiting? Not long after A Kettle of Fish was published, I heard of a site called Tripfiction that helps readers match books and destinations. Such a great idea I registered Kettle on there straight away.

I’m delighted to say that in a week’s time and thanks to a link-up between Tripfiction and Anne Cater (another avid book blogger who has set up the Bookconnectors group) it’s being featured as part of a season on Scottish fiction. In fact it’s first up!


Next Sunday August 23rd, it will be reviewed by Joanne Baird, a book blogger from Portobello near Edinburgh – well-placed to appreciate the locations!   Here’s the complete schedule, or you can also get reminders via Twitter by following me @AliBacon or using #Bookconnectors or #aroundtheworld (yes, Scotland is only the start!)

23/08/15  Ali Bacon
Portobello Book Blog

 24/08/15  Liz Gifford
Linda’s Book Bag Blog

25/08/15  Linda Gillard
Being Anne

 26/08/15 Helen MacKinven
Reflections of a Reader

27/08/15  Susi Holliday
 Random Things Through My Letterbox

 28/08/15 Margaret Skea
Jaffa Reads Too

 29/08/15  Lucy Robinson
Sandra Foy: Reading Writes

30/08/15 Alison May
So Many Books So Little Time

01/09/15 Melissa Bailey
Grab This Book

02/09/15 Bobbie Darbyshire

I haven’t met Joanne or seen her review but we’ve already enjoyed being in touch for this bit of online fun which includes a number of authors (Bobbie Darbyshire, Linda Gillard and Margaret Skea) whose work I can heartily recommend.

With all the hype surrounding new books it’s easy for an author to feel the one that’s beent there for a while has had its day. But ofcourse books, unlike yesterday’s newspapers, are there to stay.   I’m grateful to Anne, Joanna and Trip fiction for the oportunity to bring A Kettle of Fish to a new audience – in Scotland or anywhere around the world.

Looking for Laurie Lee (2): Slad and Stroud

So this time it was my turn to go in search of Laurie Lee,  on foot, in the company of our local U3A walking group, who welcomed me warmly on my first outing with them and provided excellent company along the way. Of course not all of these seasoned ramblers  were interested in the literary connections of the Slad Valley, so three cheers for our leader Lynne who decided that poetry would be part of the day and invited us all to take a turn reading the poems on the trail.

Slad poetry trail

Poetry in the landscape

I was first up and  found myself reading Equinox , an autumnal reflection (in keeping with the weather!) which made for a sobering start:

Time when the gourd upon the ground
Cracks open kernel or decay
Indifferent to man or worm

The poems are cunningly etched onto perspex windows on the wayside posts so that you seem to read them through the the backdrop of forest, meadow and sky. I think we were all surprised at how many of the poems  had an elegiac quality but all of them – including my favourite Home from Abroad – were a wonderful celebration of the landscape around us.  For those who were interested – and there were some Lee fans amongst us – I also provided an enthusiastic review of Paul Murphy’s book!


“My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows”

If you decide to do this walk, allow four hours unless unlike me you are a seasoned yomper or can do without pit stops,  and make sure you have the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust map. There’s also a nice description of the whole route with some great photos on the Cotswold Life website.

Black book cafe

A cinema? a launderette? Woop, it’s a cafe!

Of course we should have finished up at the Woolpack, Laurie Lee’s local pub, but that wasn’t part of the plan and I was already overdue for a meeting with John Holland, writer and organiser of Stroud Short Stories, which turned into a whistlestop conversational tour of writing, performing and previous lives.  All highly enjoyable! But the principal outcome was bringing home a copy of the new Stroud Short Stories anthology, a chance to read many writers for the first time and to ‘listen again’ to the brilliant contributions from Alice Jolly, Nimue Brown, Andrew Stevenson,  Joe Eurell and the others who read with me  last November.

Stroud anthology

What better proof  is there,if we needed it,  that literature in all its forms is is still very much part of the Gloucestershire landscape?

Looking for Laurie Lee

Laurie Lee coverWe’ve all read  Cider with Rosie, haven’t we? Well I certainly remember bits of it featuring in O Level English circa 1968 and watching at least two episodes of a TV adaptation. I also remember picking up a copy of I Walked Out some years later, probably on account of its poetic title but not progressing very far with it. Since moving south I’ve also been aware of the comparative closeness of Slad (although it turns out I was wrong about exactly how close or even in what direction!)

murphybookSo my knowledge of Lee has been at best impressionistic and sadly lacking in the details of his life or his writing, but my ignorance is now being  addressed thanks to Paul Murphy, whom I met last month in Hawkesbury Upton, and whose book I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee is not just an account of Lee’s life but also of Paul’s own more recent  journey  along the  roads Lee traveled in Spain  in the 1930s.

Written in the wake of the breakdown of Murphy’s  marriage (also the reason for the journey) it’s a reflective and introspective book.  It invests Northern Spain with just as much atmosphere as Lee gave to Slad, but Paul is also a scholar and brings Spain’s  recent history into sharp perspective, reminding us that  the Civil War was not just  the romantic adventure that spawned For Whom the Bell Tolls and how even in present day Spain, Franco’s legacy is never far away.

Paul Murphy uses Lee’s journey to tell his own story and vice versa, and he is at pains to say this is creative non-fiction rather than a straight factual account. But every biographer (not that Murphy claims this mantle) will see his subject through his own experience and the two stories really are complementary, with each throwing light on the other  (rather in the way Edmund de Waal interlaces his own  and his family’s story in The Hare with the Amber Eyes). By the end of this book I’ll have learned not just about two men but about how all of us deal with the emotional highs and lows of life.  You might also be interested in this touching addition to Paul’s story.

Poetry on the Laurie Lee trail

Poetry on the Laurie Lee trail

Despite my new appreciation of Lee, I’m not sure that I’m going to rush out and read him straight away, but guess what?  Our local U3A has a trip scheduled to the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way (managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) early next month. What a great way to round off my Lee season.

It should be a great opportunity to  soak up the Lee ambience (and poetry) in the place he  immortalised.

And I’ll finally know exactly where it is.



Jane Davis introduces Women Writing Women (don’t miss a bargain!)

I Stopped TimeI first came across Jane Davis when someone in the local Historical Novel Society tipped me off about her I Stopped Time, a fascinating account of life and photography in Brighton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but Jane is also a contemporary novelist. Her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and afterwards she was featured her in the Bookseller’s ‘One to Watch’ section. She has since published five further novels.  I’ve recently read  An Unchoreographed Life (reviewed here) which I acquired as part of a Kindle ‘box set’ which Jane and six other members of the Alliance of Independent Authors collaborated to produce. The result is Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, seven novels (details below) under one wrapper, all for £7.99. In fact the set is a limited offer, available only until May 23rd and so I’ve asked Jane along to talk about the project before the deal runs out.



Why was taking part in this project so important to you and what were the ideas behind it?
The challenge for indies is connecting book and reader. That’s why collections like Outside the Box: Women Writing Women work so well. We know that readers are struggling to find their next read, one that will entertain, challenge and inspire them. Choice can be overwhelming and so it’s easier to stick to the authors we already know. I’m the same!  So, yes, we asked readers to trust us, but we also offered them a great deal: seven novels for the price of two. Added to this – as if further encouragement were needed – we tried to make it fun. Joni Rodger’s daughter (Jerusha Rodgers of Rabid Badger Editing) created a fabulous digital swag bag that includes a critically acclaimed novel by Joni, a free music album download by Jessica Bell and a heap of other fun and artsy surprises. Anyone who sends us proof of purchase gets entered in a draw to win one of them. (Oh, I didn’t know about this!  Ed)

How did you decide who to collaborate with?
Obviously, it was important to find others who shared the same values and aims, but we were fans of each others’ fiction before we came together as a team. A review described Roz Morris’s My Memories of a Future Life as a ‘strange and stubborn’ novel. Immediately, I wanted that book, and I lapped it up! We also felt it was important that no two books should be too alike, but they needed to have enough in common to appeal to the same target market. Our decision was to focus on our characters and the boundary-breaking nature of our fiction.

The fact that you’re an all female group is difficult to ignore.
It is, although this was completely unintentional. None of us write purely for women. Personally, I share Joanne Harris’s view that ‘women’s fiction’ isn’t a genre. All it does is reinforce the idea that books written by women are not for men. At a time when bookshops have been asked to do away with ‘boys’ fiction’ and ‘girls’ fiction’, this category seems highly inappropriate. We do know that women read books written by both men and women and that men tend to only read books written by men. Or do they? The twist in this tale is that two of our authors ghost for male writers!

What are your hopes for the box-set?
The box set has just entered its final month. I feel a little sad about that, but we decided to create something that was a genuine limited edition. After the 23rd May, it will disappear. So the project was never all about the money.
Speaking for myself, I wanted to change readers’ perception of self-published fiction, particularly those who have been fed the line that it is the preserve of amateurs. (I know I was). And yet when I explored the option for myself, I discovered a diverse group, including authors who had walked away from six-figure deals, established authors who’d been dropped by their publishers after their latest book didn’t sell quite so well, talented newcomers building a readership, innovative authors whose work doesn’t fit the market, cross-genre authors who sell themselves as a brand and best-selling authors who have never tried the traditional route. In fact, in a recent survey of over 2,500 authors, a quarter of those who had traditional deals had also self-published. There is a new breed of hybrid authors who look at each writing project and decide if it is one to submit to their publisher or one to go it alone. My belief is that the predicted growth in self-publishing will now come from authors who are currently under contract.

Are there any downsides to offering a ‘limited edition’?
Yes. We realise that it’s a huge ask to get people to review a 7-novel box-set within a 90-day period. For many people, this represents 6 months’ worth of reading. But all of our work has been reviewed extensively and so we hope readers will hop over the individual book details.

What will you take away from the experience?
I’ve learned such a lot from being part of this amazing group of writers. Really, I have such admiration for them. As self-publishers, we’ve all had to acquire skillsets that go above and beyond those of the average author: cover design, website design, interior layout, video production, PR, the list goes on. I have learned a huge amount about marketing and production, lessons that I’ll be able to carry forwards when our 90 days is done. And promotion in a group certainly gives you more courage. While encouraging others to step outside their comfort zones and to take risk on us, we’ve also had to – and the response has been incredible.

Thank you, Jane! I’ve now read another of the box set The Centauress by Kathleen Jones and found it just as absorbing as An Unchoreographed Life although in a completely different way. I’m really looking forward to the others in the collection. Everyone please check out the links below and don’t forget you only have until May 23rd to snap up this great offer. (I’m now off to enter the digital swag bag competition!)

What’s inside Women Writing Women?

BLUE MERCY by Orna Ross, “A complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery — and surprise…John McGahern meets Maeve Binchy.” IRISH INDEPENDENT

CRAZY FOR TRYING by Joni Rodgers, “Refreshing and provocative… Think Jane Eyre with rock and roll.”  HOUSTON PRESS

MY MEMORIES OF A FUTURE LIFE by Roz Morris, “Absolutely gripping…Visual and visceral, original and odd.” FOR BOOKS SAKE

THE CENTAURESS by Kathleen Jones, “A compelling narrative of a writer’s passion for her work.” HELEN DUNMORE

AN UNCHOREOGRAPHED LIFE by Jane Davis, “An extraordinary level of emotion… superb storytelling.” THE CULT DEN

ONE NIGHT AT THE JACARANDA by Carol Cooper, “Sassy and classy in equal measures. A must.” DR. PIXIE MCKENNA, media doctor and TV presenter

WHITE LADY by Jessica Bell, “Edgy, pacy, and chillingly real.”  JJ MARSH, author of The Beatrice Stubbs series










Links to Buy:

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Jane Davis

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Not writing, still breathing

I’m sure I saw someone say over on Facebook that writing is like breathing, i.e. necessary to life. And up to a few months ago I would have agreed. Regardless of the intrusion of life events (and often because of just that!) writing was the ‘go to’ place, and thinking about writing was the default state of mind.
However back in January a funny thing happened. I just couldn’t write any more. At first I thought it was just the novel I was writing, from which my brain surely needed a break, but even having put that (and my M.A.) aside, and considered a couple of other projects, I discovered there was nothing else I actually wanted or needed to say. It was peculiar, it was unthinkable.

Knitting, not writing
Not drowning but knitting

Apart from the general disruption to life, I was seriously concerned for my sanity, in fact my entire physical and mental well-being. How would I survive? Well all  I can say is that three months down the line, I am getting from day to day in somewhat better shape than I was before my flight from writing. I am waving, not drowning and certainly still alive.

But what now? A new writing adventure (non-fiction, memoir, editing)?  Or is the next adventure not to write? I’m certainly not rushing into enything just yet but before I rename this blog The Joy of Golf (been there done that) or Knitting tips: how not to drop a stitch while watching Poldark I’m going to carry on a bit longer and give space to some of the writing friends whose efforts deserve support.

Stroud anthology
Guaranteed awesome

First of all,  there’s good news from Stroud Short Stories, who in a break from tradition are publishing the work read at their great short story nights. Yes, this includes mine, but also another 70 + stories from over 50 authors.
If the ones I heard are anything to go by this collection is guaranteed to be awesome. Big thanks to Nimue Brown who has shouldered the considerable work of putting the collection together and all that it entails.

The anthology is being launched on Friday in Stroud where copies will be on sale or you can order via Lulu.

janedportraitMy first guest of the new season is  Jane Davis, an author whose books – and energy! – I really admire and who will be talking later this week about Women Writing Women, an intriguing indie publishing venture.

So, as ever, watch this space!